- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

— For three-and-a-half quarters, Brian Westbrook was trapped in the vice grip that was the Minnesota Vikings‘ rush defense. He was hit behind the line of scrimmage. A lunge was required for even a small gain.

But Westbrook still found a way to make one gigantic play.

With the Eagles clinging to a two-point lead, Westbrook turned a screen pass into a sensational 71-yard touchdown with 6:37 remaining, sending Philadelphia past the Vikings 26-14 in an NFC wild card game Sunday at the raucous Metrodome.

“We called that play at the exact right time,” Westbrook said. “The offensive line did a great job of getting out, and Correll [Buckhalter] threw a great block. When you have nine, 10 guys doing a great job on a screen, you’re going to have a lot of success.”

The Eagles’ defense did the rest, scoring a second-quarter touchdown on Asante Samuel’s 44-yard interception return and holding regular-season rushing leader Adrian Peterson to only one carry longer than 6 yards.

The Eagles move on to the second round and a rubber match at the top-seeded New York Giants at 1 p.m. Sunday. The teams split their regular-season meetings, with each winning on the road.

At 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Carolina hosts Arizona in the other NFC divisional round game.

Philadelphia’s playoff hopes were going nowhere when a 36-7 loss to Baltimore dropped it to 5-5-1. Quarterback Donovan McNabb was replaced at halftime of that game, fueling speculation that he did not have a future with the Eagles.

“I’ve seen a team that has continued to rally behind one another,” McNabb said. “Whatever’s been said on the outside during this run and even during our drought, I’ve seen a team play with a lot of energy and emotion. And the most important thing is we got back to having fun.”

But in his first playoff game since losing the Super Bowl to New England four years ago, McNabb was the far superior quarterback, avoiding a colossal mistake to throw for 300 yards. Westbrook finished with 121 yards on 23 offensive touches.

Peterson’s only big play - a 40-yard touchdown - gave Minnesota its only lead at 7-6; his 3-yard score late in the second quarter cut the Eagles’ lead to 16-14.

But that was it for Peterson, who had 1,760 rushing yards in the regular season. The burden was too much for Jackson, who finished a dreadful 15-for-35 for 164 yards and an interception.

The Vikings’ hopes ended with 2:49 remaining when a bad shotgun snap hit Jackson in the foot and was recovered by Eagles defensive tackle Juqua Parker.

Minnesota’s defense wasn’t bad, either. Despite not having nose tackle Pat Williams and defensive end Ray Edwards because of injuries - and losing safety Darren Sharper in the first half with an ankle problem - the Vikings shut down Philadelphia’s running game. Westbrook gained only 38 yards on 20 carries.

The Eagles led 6-0 after the first quarter on field goals of 43 and 51 yards by David Akers. DeSean Jackson set up the first field goal with a 62-yard punt return.

Following a slow start, Peterson gave the Vikings their only lead when he knifed between center Matt Birk and right guard Anthony Herrera for the longest touchdown run in Minnesota’s playoff history.

The Eagles went ahead 7:29 before halftime on a 31-yard field goal from Akers. Philadelphia moved into scoring position when McNabb threw 34 yards down the right side to Jackson. Samuel extended the lead to 16-7 moments later with his fourth postseason touchdown, easily intercepting Jackson.

Surprisingly, Jackson bounced back. The Eagles rushed eight on third-and-4 from the Minnesota 42, and Jackson threw quickly to Bernard Berrian for a 27-yard gain. Six plays later, Peterson burst through a hole on the left side for a 3-yard touchdown.

“At the end, to win 10 in the regular season and win a division is a start for us,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said.

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